Saddle up for the cowboy life!

If you’ve ever had a hankerin’ to find out what life is really like on the ranch, plan on spending a week at one of the 100 dude ranches across the country. Located in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Texas, and even out East, you’ll find a choice of ranches offering an authentic cowboy experience. I had an opportunity to get saddled up in two Colorado ranches, located about two hours from Denver in Grand County. At an elevation of some 8,000 feet, all I could see for miles were the magnificent Rockies as I took in the glorious fresh mountain air.

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Drowsy Water Ranch, Granby, Colorado

Drowsy Water has been owned and operated by the Fosha family for 35 years. This genuine Western ranch borders thousands of acres of backcountry and the Arapahoe National Forest. Rocky Mountain National Park is a short drive away. Drowsy Water offers a host of Western-style activities from trail riding to hearty, down home cookin’ to cowboy lore, well suited for both adults and children. The all-inclusive resort also offers swimming, hiking, trout fishing, biking and four wheel drives through the mountains. If you want to take a break from riding, head to the Colorado River for white water rafting, included in your week’s vacation package. At night, the fun continues with a camp fire, sing-along, country dancing, and carnival night. Kicking my boots to “Achy, Breaky Heart,” at the country line dancing was great fun for me.

Guests come from all over the world…and even close to home. One guest, who lives in town, comes to ride every year. Another couple came all the way from the UK. When I asked them why they chose Drowsy Water, they said, “We saw the movie City Slickers and thought, ‘Let’s go!” “Creating memories of time spent together with family and friends in our Rocky Mountain setting has a value beyond words,” said Ken Fosha, He says that over the years, many families have gotten to be good friends. “They come back together the same week every year. It’s a truly magical thing that happens here at the ranch.”

Drowsy Water also offers special “Cowgirl Week,” a special Oil Painting Workshop and an “Adults Only” Week. What does dude ranching mean? Ken explained that the idea of dude ranching actually began in the 1890’s when ranchers started inviting their East coast friends to discover the joys of daily cowboy life. Dude ranching referred to those visitors who visited didn’t “do” this every day. And it took off from there. In many cases, these “dude ranchers” tell their friends about this amazing experience…and they want to get in on this, too.

Riding High

Whether you’re a beginner or an “old hand,” Ken’s expert riding instruction is top notch and will have you feeling comfortable in the saddle in no time. Horses are well-trained and selected to match your riding skills. Daily instruction, both in the arena and on the trail, helps improves rider’s proficiency. “Seventy-five percent of riding is balance,” says Fosha. “You and your horse ride like a smooth team, but you are the boss.” Ken says proudly, “It’s great to see the progress riders make within the week.”

My favorite time of day was at 5:00 p.m. when the horses were let out to pasture. I stood behind the fence and watched as a thundering herd of horses made their way to freedom, ready to gallop under the Colorado night sky.

Winning Top Honors from Trip Advisor

Named #1 by Trip Advisor Drowsy Water was recently awarded a Winners Choice Award for 2010 by Trip Advisor as the #1 All Inclusive Resort in the World. For more information, visit their website at or call 800-845-2292.

Slide up to the  Bar Lazy J, Parshall, Colorado

A little slice of heaven along the Colorado River, Bar Lazy J Guest Ranch has been in operation since 1912…and is looking forward to celebrating their 100th anniversary next year. Run by Jerry and Cheri Helmicki, this all-inclusive family-friendly ranch offers three hearty meals a day, plus the endless cookie box, all horseback riding and lots of other outdoor recreational activities. For the more adventurous there’s Gold Medal fishing, mountain biking, hiking, even a cattle drive. Rides are available twice a day; Jerry told me, offering scenic, moderate and adventure trails. There’s even a Spa Ride every Friday, where you can ride up to the Parshall Divide, have lunch at the top of a canyon and end up at the Hot Sulphur Springs to soak in the mineral waters. “About 70% of our guests are repeat visitors,” Jerry said and it was easy to see why.

This was the down-home friendliest place I’ve ever visited. I can only attribute this to the warm, welcoming atmosphere of the hosts. Laid back is the operative theme here where you’ll connect with family and new-found friends. Books and board games rein supreme as well as the lively art of conversation.

Most cabins sit along the banks of the river with the statuesque Rockies as backdrop. The original log cabins have been modernized, while maintaining the look and feel of the “Old West.” Before dinner, guests gathered together for an impromptu wine and cheese party at the rocking chairs next to the river. Evening activities feature more authentic “Wild West” events from a hayride to singing cowboys to a rodeo. At night, I fell asleep, lulled by the sounds of the rushing waters. The highlight of my week was the Breakfast Ride, where guests rode to the campground and a hearty Colorado breakfast was waiting. As I watched the horses cross the river and sat with a steaming cup of java in breathtaking scenery, I knew this was hardly just another day at the office.

On another outing, we visited the delightful town of Grand Lake and I rustled up a few Western souvenirs. After spending a few days in Grand County, I was ready to sign up for another week down on the ranch. Dude, this is “cowboy country” at its best! For more information about Bar Lazy J Ranch, call 800-396-6279 or visit

How to get there

Grand County is a two-hour drive from the Denver airport. You can rent a car or shuttle service is available. The Amtrak train also stops in Granby.